by David Morstad
In the John 5 story of the healing at the pool of Bethesda, we hear of a man who waited for more than thirty years to be healed. The story tells us that the angel who stirred the waters did so on a pretty unpredictable basis. It makes sense that someone would wait a long time for a miracle but, seriously, thirty years? Why would he have hung around for that long? We are never told, of course, but we would have to consider one possibility that is consistent with the culture of the day. The man simply had nowhere else to go.
Having a disability, illness or other anomaly at the time meant being set apart from society. Lepers were separated and instructed to shout “unclean” so that others would not encounter them. We logically assume that this was for the purpose of limiting the spread of the disease, and that was certainly a result. But two thousand years ago, people probably knew less about the bacterial transmission of leprosy (now Hansen’s Disease) than they did about cultural and religious separation, about clean vs. unclean. They knew what was acceptable, and they knew how to segregate that which was not. Enter Jesus, who seemed to be in the business of ignoring – or sometimes confronting – that segregation.
Jesus healed people. In fact, he cured diseases and fixed body parts on a pretty regular basis. But when he did, there was invariably something more going on. When he healed, the segregation and isolation were chased away with the rest of the disease or disability. People were provided with a pathway back into the mainstream of society.
In the Gospel of Luke, we are presented the story of ten lepers whom Jesus healed. Of those ten, only one returned to say ‘thank you’. Jesus then asks the obvious question, “Where are the other nine?” Most of the time, we read this story as an important lesson in blessing and gratitude, but there is another truth emerging in the background. Certainly, it would have been proper for them to return to Jesus and offer their heartfelt thanks, but those other nine guys never showed up. Why? They were all in other places, doing other things.
We have no way of knowing where they went or what occupied their time, but I like to believe they had some important catching up to do. Maybe they sought out old friends, or raced off to their families so they could share a long overdue hug. Maybe they went to a marketplace and surrounded themselves with the noise and laughter. Maybe they got jobs. Maybe they all went fishing. I have no idea. All we know is this: Beyond the gift of bodily restoration, they had received something far more precious, the gift of wholeness. And I’ll bet they embraced it.
Likewise today, people of faith can also put themselves in the business of ignoring or confronting segregation and offer a wholeness that comes in the form of an open door. A wholeness that welcomes people home, where they belong.